LAHORE – About a week ago when India’s Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna came to Lahore after two days’ stay in the federal capital, he was received by provincial minister Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor.

The Indian dignitary also called on the Punjab chief minister and exchanged views on matters of mutual interest. The chief minister, who is also the provincial president of the PML-N, was very happy to see Mr Krishna and stressed the need for promoting Pakistan-India ties, forgetting the bitter past.

In other words he was saying that wars fought by the two countries against each other should be treated as a closed chapter and foundation should be laid for fresh ties. For the sake of trade relations, the PML-N leadership is willing to put even the Kashmir issue on backburner.

This is the thinking of a party, which regards itself as the most patriotic and the custodian of the country’s interests about India which, most of Pakistanis and even the Armed Forces, consider as an enemy because it is, inter alia, perpetrating atrocities on the people of Occupied Kashmir and is not ready to give the Kashmiris their right to self-determination, as provided in the UN resolutions.

President Zardari came to Lahore on Friday. He spent some time in the provincial metropolis, exchanged views with the PPP leaders, issued some routine statements and went back in the evening.

Nobody from the Punjab government was there to receive or see him off.

A newspaper asked the Punjab law minister why no one was there to give the president due protocol. A cousin of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the law minister said that Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor had been given the responsibility. But when the newspaper asked Mr Chaudhry why he was not seen at the airport, he said he had been away from the provincial metropolis for a few days and was unaware of the president’s visit.

This must establish beyond any iota of doubt that for the PML-N leadership and the Punjab government the minister of an ‘enemy’ country is more important than the president of Pakistan.

The president may be the most hated and reviled person in the country, but the fact is that he is the head of state. All courts and even the military leadership give him due respect, no matter what their personal opinion of the man. He should be held in esteem as long as he holds the office.

If somebody doesn’t like his policies, he has every right to do so. But difference of opinion should not mean disrespecting the holder of the country’s highest constitutional office. This is especially true for those who have regard for the constitution.

Everyone knows that Mr Zardari had been elected as president through the constitutional process. The PML-N had taken part in the process by putting up its candidate, who was defeated. So, Mr Zardari is the legitimate president, and no one, in particular the holder of any constitutional office, has the right to say that he doesn’t recognise him as the head of state.

This ‘singular honour’ goes only to the Punjab chief minister, who had also launched a ‘go Zardari, go’ campaign about a year ago. However, the movement has failed to produce any results so far.

The anti-Zardari attitude of the chief minister is reminiscent of the similar conduct of his elder brother Nawaz Sharif as the chief executive of the country’s biggest province towards then prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The 1988-93 period is remembered for the worst-ever confrontation between Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. The office of the prime minister was ridiculed. At times it was said that since the country’s biggest province (Punjab) and the largest province (Balochistan, then ruled by Akbar Bugti) were opposed to the federal government, Benazir Bhutto had no justification to stay in power.

Whenever she had a plan to visit Lahore, the chief minister invariably left the metropolis for some other city. And if he ever received her at the airport, it was the biggest news of the day.

At the time, the Punjab chief minister was getting advice from Husain Haqqani, the disgraced man who can join hands even with the devil for his personal aggrandisement. He was the one who had advised Mr Sharif to set up a Punjab PIA, a Punjab railways, Punjab TV, Punjab Radio, Punjab Bank etc. A senior bureaucrat, now dead, worked for the establishment of the Punjab TV for quite some time.

Haqqani kept the political temperature up till the PPP hired his services.

As a reward for his services, Mr Sharif had appointed him the country’s ambassador to Sri Lanka. But when he changed loyalty and joined hands with Benazir Bhutto, he was made federal information secretary.

Both the ‘employers’ never had any remorse for what they did against each other using the services of the same man.

But now that the memo commission has held that Haqqani as ambassador to the US was not loyal to Pakistan, both the PPP and the PML-N must spare some time and ponder what kind of people they have been taking advice from.

The PML-N people should also make it a point that the dignity of any constitutional office should not be undermined just for political differences or to show the common mortals that the Punjab chief minister is a ‘he man’.

Maybe, the time changes and tomorrow some PML-N leader is elected as president and a PPP man is the Punjab chief minister. How will the PML-N president feel if the Punjab chief minister refuses to recognise him as the head of state, call him names, and is reluctant to give him due protocol?